Oregon Football Practice Report — Sept. 26
by Rob MoseleyEditor, GoDucks.comVenue: Autzen StadiumFormat: Helmets, jerseys and shortsThe Ducks held their pregame walk-through this morning in Autzen Stadium. By now you probably know the drill: This is a mid-tempo day drilling the schemes and plays Oregon will use Saturday on offense, defense and special teams. The focus is on recognition and communication pre-snap, and assignments after. One thing that becomes easy thanks to the lower tempo — prior to the "Fast Friday" workout that will ramp things back up tomorrow — is identifying who's playing on special teams. I try to note that in practices earlier in the week or during games, but usually only can identify seven or eight guys before the unit runs the play and is back on the sideline. One thing that's striking is just how many defensive players the Ducks (and pretty much every team in college football) use on the kickoff, punt and return teams. Of the 41 non-specialists (all but the kicker, punter and long snapper) on the kickoff, kickoff return, punt and punt return teams, I counted 33 defensive guys, more than 80 percent. Which is not totally unexpected. "You're tackling guys in space, something they should be experts at," UO coach Mark Helfrich said.Perhaps ironically though, of the 11 guys on kickoff return, only returners De'Anthony Thomas and Keanon Lowe are offensive players. The upbacks are all defensive linemen, and the front level is stacked with linebackers and safeties. It's pretty much the same story on punt return; not including returner Bralon Addison, eight of 10 guys are defensive players. Also defying convention are some of the offensive guys on the coverage teams. Lowe, Josh Huff, Ayele Forde and Colt Lyerla are used to being tackled on offense, but they're all factors on the kickoff team at various times. But still, it's defensive guys who dominate the special teams. Safety Erick Dargan is a starter on all four right now, while linebacker Tyson Coleman and safety Ben Butterfield each start on three.So when you hear defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti talk about how he wants to play 22 to 25 guys, it's not just all the defensive reps they take that makes such depth so valuable. His guys play a ton in the kicking game, too. Other observations: Aliotti seemed particularly intense this morning, no doubt aware of the challenge his defense will face against California on Saturday. But by the end of the day, Aliotti deemed it the best Thursday practice so far this season for his guys. … I've reported it before, but it really is remarkable how back-and-forth the placekicking competition continues to be. Seems like whenever Alejandro Maldonado or Matt Wogan makes a kick, the other does as well. Same deal for misses. Just really hard to gauge any separation there from my vantage point. … It was a brilliant, sunny day under just patchy clouds in the stadium. The forecast Saturday night is for rain, however.